This is one of the very good early talking films of 1929, although the plot itself seems very typical. The difference in this backstage musical is in the use of the camera and the delivery of the performances by the cast. It is quite technically advanced and this allows the viewer to appreciate the heart behind the film rather than noticing how primitive everything seems. There might be what constitutes spoilers ahead, so be warned.
Nancy Carroll was a big star at Paramount at this time, and here she plays a dancer, Bonny, who has come a long way to audition as a dancer in a revue. Hal Skelly plays Skid Johnson, an eccentric dancer with the troupe. He rebukes the manager of the troupe for not giving Bonny his attention when she auditions, and Skid is now out of a job too. While waiting in the train station, the two wire a burlesque troupe that is advertising for dancers and they both get hired. From that point forward Bonny and Skid are fast friends, and ultimately consider themselves partners since they mostly dance together. Skid is a big plain looking fellow, but he has a heart of gold. The problem is, after the show he drinks like a fish. He's not a mean drunk, just a drunk.
The revue falls on tough times and the manager is telling Skid he will have to let Bonny go. Skid tells him to keep Bonny on and just take her salary out of his. When Bonny refuses this as charity, Skid uses this as an opportunity for a rather sideways but sweet proposal. The two get married that very night, but there are constant arguments from that point forward over Skid's drinking and general irresponsibility. Ultimately, Skid gets an opportunity to headline in a Zeigfeld show. Bonny tells him to take the job and leave her behind. Skid does so, but without someone to watch over him he drinks even more heavily and begins womanizing. Skid eventually hits the skids and drinks himself right of his job and his marriage.
The manager of the old troupe decides to give Skid another chance. However, without Bonny, Skid has no real motivation to sober up. The night of the opening performance he shows up drunk. Bonny does get him straightened out in time, but the closing scene leaves matters open on whether the two will reconcile. What is clear is that the two do love each other and always have. Sometimes however, love and the will to make it work are not enough. Both people need to have some strength of character, and in this case one party doesn't, and furthermore, he knows and admits he doesn't.
Hal Skelly was killed in a car when it collided with a train in 1934, so his life was tragically cut short at age 43. He gave such a great performance here I'm surprised he didn't at least get an Oscar nomination for his acting.
One other commenter mentioned that this film is on home video, but I have never been able to find it commercially available. The DVD copy I have was duped from a VHS tape that was apparently on its last legs. At one point I thought that I was watching a scene in two strip Technicolor when I realized that the outfits of the chorus girls appeared yellow because of a rotten spot on the original tape that had copied onto the DVD. Even if you have a bad copy though, this film is well worth your time. Paramount made some of the finest films in that first talkie year of 1929 - this film, The Virginian, Chinatown Nights, The Love Parade, and Glorifying the American Girl, for example. It's too bad that we'll probably never see any of these in their restored state on an official DVD release.
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